March 16, 2013
FIRST the toilets, or the “stinking ugly toilet” and “eyesore”, as one “devastated trader” described it in The Advertiser of February 27.
From a distance, Cape Woolamai’s new public toilet block looks rather pleasing. Forget the traditional grim public toilet architecture of concrete blocks; this has clean, modern lines.
Clad in light grey Colorbond, it’s light and breezy, as befits its beach-side location. It reminds me of a modern, modest and well-designed beach house.
As I get closer, I circle the building, nostrils flared for “the wafting smell of raw sewerage”, as described in the Advertiser article. Not a whiff. Hmmm, something fishy’s going on here.
There are two toilets. I open the door of one gingerly and am overwhelmed by … envy. This is one very slick toilet/bathroom, roomy, with lots of natural light from the overhead laser roof, smart modern fittings, a stainless steel mirror and a spotless concrete floor. I can say without shame that it’s cleaner than my bathroom. I can’t smell a thing, not even the sickly disinfectant one expects in public toilets.
What I see and smell doesn’t tally with comments by the owner of a nearby café who told the Advertiser that some days over summer the smell was so bad he had to close the doors and apologise to customers.
Next to the location, the other major gripe. The building is on the corner of an S bend in Vista Place. A petition with 45 signatures, presented to the last meeting of the council, asked the council to move the toilets across the car park “so as not to hinder the line of sight of the drivers and the general public”.
The owner of a takeaway shop, Paul Wright, told the Advertiser the new building obscured his shop and that school kids on their bikes were “nearly getting bumped off by cars coming around the corner that can’t see them”.
I’m there on a weekday morning, when there is little traffic, but it’s difficult to see the problem. The building is located about 10 metres in from the road and visibility appears good. I can also see Mr Wright’s kebab shop unless I stand right in front of the toilets.
Finally, to the lack of consultation. The Advertiser article is subtitled “The shire does it again”. Why didn’t the council just ask the owners before it built the toilet?
Project co-ordinator Trevor Dando says that in fact there was about 18 months of consultation with traders while landscape and concept plans were prepared. He says the council was open to all suggestions. Although some owners favoured the site of the previous portable toilets, others felt the area was too secluded and could attract undesirable behaviour. “They wanted it in an open and safe space with natural surveillance and leaving room for the maximum number of car spaces. It also needed to be accessible to elderly people and people with disabilities, including people in wheelchairs.”
As for the smell, he says there was an initial problem because the toilet was at the end of the sewerage reticulation line, but that was quickly rectified. “I have asked shop owners to monitor it and contact me if there are any more problems and none have.”
Mr Dando says that as far as he is aware there have been no accidents. “We’ve since gone and checked the distances and it exceeds the requirements.”
I decide to do a little consultation of my own. Jo Free, who owns Dr Food, directly across the road from the new toilets, distances herself from the newspaper complaints. “The way it was written it sounded as if we were all against it. There was a plan and we were all asked to put in any complaints we had about it.”
She tells me the toilets did stink when they were first opened. She rang the council, spoke to Mr Dando and plumbers were on site within days to fix it. The toilets blocked over the long weekend, she says, but that was due to users putting the wrong things down them. “The cleaners come twice a day and they do a great job.”
Personally she would have liked the toilets in the corner but she doesn’t have a great problem with the current site. Looking further ahead, she would like to see the area surfaced and with a playground for local families and visitors.
Matthew Ware, who owns the general store around the corner, says he is not personally affected by the location of the toilets but believes they should have gone in the corner where the portable toilets had been located. “You want it out of sight and out of mind.”
And there’s the nub of the argument, perhaps. I would have thought toilets should be where visitors can see them and get to them easily but others want them out of view.
Berry Hermando in the pizza shop says he is quite happy with the location. “People have young kids who want to go to the toilet. It’s easier for them to keep an eye on them there.” Mr Hermando is also happy with the consultation. He says the council showed him the plans and asked for his opinions. “It used to be that we had to send people to San Remo and Woolamai beach if they wanted to use the toilets. I’m really rapt that we have toilets here now.”
With so many takeaway shops in Cape Woolamai, he would now like to see the area made more attractive for people to stop and eat. “Perhaps plant some trees and put in some seats and make it a picnic area. That’s what the holiday people want.”
All that is coming, Mr Dando says, although no one is sure when. The toilets cost $65,000 but that’s only the first stage of a project estimated at a total of $400,000. The next stage is landscaping and sealing the car park. Councillors have agreed to consider it in the capital works program for 2013-14, although it will have to compete for funding with numerous other projects throughout the shire.
First, though, they have to decide whether to shift the toilets, with the cost estimated at $20-30,000.